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How Customers Inspire Better Performance

Posted by Bill Lee on January 18, 2012 at 02:32 PM

We know about the value that customers can create in your marketing and sales efforts--through references, testimonials, co-marketing, participation in your customer communities, advocacy efforts, etc. We also about their value to your product development and launch efforts. And customers can service other customers.

Well, here's yet more value they can provide, and it's substantial: inspiring employees to greater performance.

From Harvard Business Review, How Customers Rally the Troops (may require purchase).

Meaningful contact with customers--in person or even through photographs or letters--can create these sorts of results:

  • Radiologists increased the accuracy of their diagnoses by 46%
  • University fundraisers increased their weekly productivity by 400%.
  • Product developers who have contact with customers are more likely to create offerings that exceed sales and marketing projections. 

In the university fundraiser experiment, a scholarship recipient spent five minutes telling a group of callers (with no managers present) how they helped him get a scholarship, how it changed his life, and how much he appreciated it. Result:  After a month, a 171% increase in money raised weekly. A second study on callers who reached out to more likely donors increased their money raised by 400%

Having managers, on the other hand, describe such things had no impact, in a separate study.

In the product development study, one Microsoft lab manager noted that after seeing an end user, the usual obnoxious excuses from product developers, like "if they can't figure out how to use it, they can just look in the manual" go out the door.

Employees generally regard customers as more credible as sources of inspiration than they do managers. Leaders are more effective at inspiring the troops when they bring customers into those efforts.

Yet, in surveys, fewer than 1% of executives think that managers should show university fundraisers how their work--such as raising money for scholarships--makes a difference in kids' lives. Rather, executives believe that employees are motivated by self-interest and incentives like pay or vacations. Wrong! And correcting that belief presents a huge opportunity.

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